Bicycle enthusiasts met with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission Thursday to lobby for access to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Bicycle advocates point to recent studies that they say show the bridge provides ample room for both motorists and cyclists, despite arguments from transportation officials who fear the juxtaposition would create a safety hazard. The debate is an old one, spanning decades.
“Public access on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge would be feasible, inexpensive, and safe,” said Debbie Hubsmith, executive director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. “It's time for Caltrans to move forward with bicycle access.”
Critics cite safety concerns. The bridge has a 12-foot-wide shoulder, but vehicles travel at high speeds, which some say makes it unsuitable for cyclists.
The issue of bicycles on the bridge between Contra Costa and Marin counties dates back to 1975, when Caltrans resolved to let bicyclists use the outside shoulder of the road as a bike lane. The plan was subsequently tabled after a pipeline for water was installed due to the severe drought of the mid-1970s.
Over the last two decades, bicyclists have continued to push for access and say the recent studies support their case.
A “Public Access Study,” released in 1998, analyzed 10 years of statewide traffic data for more than 1,000 miles of California freeways. It concluded that bicycle access to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge would be safer than most city streets, because of the unusually wide separation from traffic, good lighting at night, and the lack of traffic intersections.
The most recent study, called “Statewide Safety Study of Bicyclists and Pedestrians on Freeways, Expressways, Toll Bridges, and Tunnels,” was conducted in 2001 at the request of Caltrans. The report's authors concluded that “bicycle collisions on bridges are rare events. Bridges and tunnels do not appear to have a greater safety problem than exists on the adjacent roadways.”